Review: Martin Creed at the Hayward Gallery

It is the blandest cliché to state in a conversation about art that in its contemporary form, it has little to offer a viewer. However, Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery proves that generalization correct. Unfortunately Creed would be delighted by this view. Even the exhibition’s title questions, ‘What’s the point of it?’. Shamelessly imitating Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, Creed’s work is supremely unoriginal. It asks the interminable question of “what is art?”, while offering no new answers. The exhibition is enjoyable, especially for those who like complaining, but it is unimpressive.

Creed gained national notoriety in 2001 after winning the Turner Prize. His winning exhibit was an empty room with lights turning on and off. Unsurprisingly, it won few fans. Educated at the Slade Art School and University College London, he has received an impressive artistic training. Sadly, this pedigree is visible in very few of his works. Since his Turner Prize win, Creed has exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions across Europe and the United States. Over his career, he has won fans and critics in equal measure, with his provocative questioning of art and its contemporary impact proving a divisive.

According to the press release, “his art transforms everyday materials and actions into surprising meditations on existence and the invisible structures that shape our lives”. That is an extremely generous view. Painfully smug in its attempts to provoke the viewer, it does so in entirely the same fashion as the Dadaists in the 1920s. Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ issued a provocative challenge to the art establishment. It declares that, due to his status as an artist, what he produces, even if he had not made the work itself, was art. It was ground breaking and, ironically, intrinsically original. Now the idea has been done to death. ‘Work No 79’, a piece of Blu-Tack attached to a wall, does not provoke precisely because it is following an extremely well established art trend. In a way the exhibition’s most outstanding feature is Creed’s inability to move beyond Duchamp and break new ground. It is unsurprising that so many of the works are supplied ‘courtesy of the artist’. It seems art buyers are gullible, but not that gullible. Pleasantly, ‘Work No 268’ is a notable exception to the dross. The infuriating smugness of many of the other exhibits is blissfully absent, as the work embraces an honest sense of fun.

Related  Let me entertain you.

This installation lacks pretention; it consists of a room of the gallery that has been filled with balloons in which the viewer can, and is invited to, get lost in. Covered in hair, presumably unintentionally, and piled almost high enough to cover the ceiling, this single work offers the immersion and amusement which the whole exhibition is intended to provide. Some visitors have left their own messages on the balloons, including “I got naked here”. They probably did.

It works precisely because this installation is devoid of pretentiousness. It is fun, engaging and amusing, bearing a strong similarity to some of Anthony Gormley’s installations without losing a sense of originality. An exhibition of more similar installations would have been a marked improvement on what is actually presented.

Admittedly this isn’t an unanimous view. Some have lauded this exhibition as the greatest living British artist’s return to form in a playful and masterful display. I found little evidence to support this. One can see meaning in anything, but there is a certain clumsy laziness in exhibiting scrunched up pieces of paper. For particularly enthused fans, this work can be purchased in the gift shop for over a hundred pounds – there did not seem to be many takers.

In parts the exhibition is listless. An erect penis and footage of women vomiting are the clumsiest, most unoriginal works on show. They are an attempt to shock the viewer, but images such as these have long since lost their cultural stigma. Considering Creed’s reputation, this exhibition could have truly innovative; it is a shame he felt no such impetus, offering instead an unimpressive collection of jumbled, unoriginal rubbish, which carries little more than an impression of his smug sense of self satisfaction. As it seems he is an artist who can get away with anything, perhaps that was his intention after all.